The portion for this week is a lengthy one and includes the infamous construction of the golden calf. This reading is always a tough pill to swallow and for obvious reasons. To begin with, God’s people made a hasty choice in turning from God, especially after basking in all of the signs and wonders in the days and weeks prior to this event. How quickly they lost faith, especially in the wake of seeing God provide manna, water, deliverance, protection, and shelter. On another level, it was difficult to see such a respectable, godly figure like Aaron buckle under the pressure of the people, allowing and even encouraging their infidelity. This year, though, what really increased the burden of this story is when I took into consideration the conversation that was happening in the previous chapters of Exodus, the conversation and planning that was unfolding upon the mountain. God was laying the groundwork for His tabernacle, the place where He would dwell—that He desired to dwell—with His people, the ones who were, in that moment, dancing and reveling and lifting their worship to an inanimate chunk of metal. How disheartening is this? God is making preparations to build the “love nest,” the very place where He would commune with His bride, and all the while His supposed bride is fornicating unfaithfully in the next room.
Think about this: As God and Moses are pouring over the details of the holy of holies, adorned with the purest of gold and the finest wood and tapestries, the people are freely and willingly handing their gold to Aaron, demanding and cajoling him to fashion a golden replica of the Most High. As God shares, piece by piece, the details of the priests’ clothing—the onyx stones engraved with the tribes of Israel and the breastplate mounted with precious stones, one for each of the tribes—the very people these stones represented were simultaneously celebrating their return back to the chains and shackles from whence they came. As Moses was receiving from God the layout for the golden plate, on which was engraved the phrase “Holy to the Lord,” the very priest on whose head that crown would rest was proclaiming as he pointed out the golden calf, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Yes, and as God was writing the marriage vows, the terms of the covenant, the people were already hastily violating them.
This thought of the people turning against God and throwing their trust onto the graven image is, no doubt, disturbing; but when juxtaposed with the intimate plans that were being written on the mountain, the treachery is elevated to a whole new level. It’s nauseating when we consider the irony of this story because little did the people know that the very groom they were abandoning was up on the mountain unveiling His desire to draw closer to them. In their feeble minds they assumed that He had abandoned them, sweeping Moses with Him. Guided by this grave assumption, they took matters into their own hands, created their own deliverer, and with little resistance, shifted their loyalty.
Every time I read this story, I cannot help but think about how easy it is to scoff at the so-called harlotry of the Israelites. In fact, I am guilty of detaching and elevating myself in judgment of these people… our forefathers. We all are. After all, we would never stoop to this level of insolence, now would we? Before we are quick to answer, we who are confident in our own so-called “stability” and quick to judge ought to, in the words of Paul, “take heed lest he (we) fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). The warning from Paul is very clear and imperative because he knows that we possess within ourselves the very same nature as those who exalted the calf. In fact, Paul sternly warns,
1 Corinthians 10:6, 11
“Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved… Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.”
The words recorded in the scriptures were written for our preservation, that we would not fall into the same impulsive error as those who stumbled before us. In his second epistle, Peter echoes this warning, commanding us to be careful because in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? Forever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues as it was from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4). Do these words sound familiar? They are words that carry the same tone of impatience and rebellion as those spoken by the very people whom we are quick to condemn for turning on Moses and casting their allegiance to the golden calf. In their impatience, these people succumbed to their own understanding and devices, which—if we are honest with ourselves—seems to also be our fatal flaw as well. Therefore, in light of their fall, Peter charges us to “be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).
The fact of the matter is this: As we diligently wait for the return of Christ, He is preparing, preparing to return and do what He initially intended to do in the desert: dwell in intimacy with His bride (John 14:1-4). Yes, He will again betroth His bride, and this time it will be an everlasting betrothal. Yet, until that hour comes, we must do what Israel failed to do: patiently wait, expectantly watch, faithfully prepare, and diligently persevere until He descends. Let us not acquiesce to temptation, trial, or doubt, for we have seen that these only have one end: destruction. Therefore, it is imperative that we hold fast to the admonition of Peter,
2 Peter 3:13-14
“But according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.”